Stockholm may be the beauty, but Gothenburg is her spirited younger sister. Mooring in Freehamnen, the inner harbour, sweeps you straight into Gothenburg’s seafaring heart. The shipyards give way to a shimmering opera house, inspired by sails, hulls and seagulls’ wings. Moored alongside is the `Viking’, a four-masted tall ship that doubles as a hotel, bar and restaurant. Maritime heritage, food and fun sum up Sweden’s festive second city, best first seen in a swirl of snow, with a glass of glogg to hand.
Echoes of elsewhere characterise this cosmopolitan seaport, built by the Dutch but also settled by German, Scots and English merchants. Swish yet gritty, the largest harbour in Scandinavia is reminiscent of London’s Docklands. Indeed, in the 1800s the city was dubbed Little London for its surfeit of British industrialists. On the waterfront, there’s even a giant ferris wheel, slowly turning under the first snowflakes of a Bergman-like Swedish winter. Yet the canals evoke a coolly Scandinavian Amsterdam, softened by steamy cafes that could almost be Vienna. Only when you tuck into wintry-white seafood, served by statuesque blondes, do you realise you’re in Sweden.
And when accosted by a choir of carol-singers dressed as a collective Christmas tree, you’ll know it’s truly Yule. Every December, a three-kilometre `Lane of Light’ runs from the inner harbour through the city to Liseberg, Scandinavia’s largest Christmas market. En route, it illuminates Avenyn, the chic, café-lined boulevard, and picks out facades, bridges and trees in fairy lights. You can also reach Liseberg on a short Paddan canal boat tour which starts half-way up Avenyn, and sweeps under 20 bridges, including the comical `cheese-grater,’ so low you have to lie flat. Rugs are provided for warmth, along with ginger snaps and steaming glogg.
If the canals are frozen, then revel in the wintry chills of Liseberg’s ice bar (cue for more rugs). Normally a surprisingly tasteful amusement park, Liseberg goes overboard at Christmas, with 700 fir trees festooned in decorations, but often outshone by a cavalcade of carol singers, choirs and big bands. The Christmas fair is a riot of gingerbread men, marzipan pigs and toasted hazelnuts, as well as Swedish meatballs, marinated herrings and a julboard, a festive seafood-smorgasbord. Sami stalls sell roasted reindeer meat from Swedish Lapland, with eclectic crafts, figurines and carved toys also vying for visitors’ attention.